Queensland Gliding

 in the S50's, 60's and 70's


Compiled by Kevin Rodda based on photos, notes, letters and log book entries provided by 

Max Howland, ex WWII pilot and instructor ... a pioneer of gliding in Queensland.


The Gliding Series


12th World Soaring Championships

 Marfa, Texas USA - 1970

Basically this is a reprint of a write-up Max made after his return - for publication in the Australian Gliding Magazine. He has however a small amount of alterations and some additions.


I had won an Australian Standard Class Championship and had been selected as one of the four allowable National entries for the World Comp. There were two classes in such competitions. For the standard class there were set limits for the gliders - 15 metre wingspan being the most important. There were no restrictions on open class gliders. Each nation could field two pilots in each class. Usually they were set different tasks each day and were scored and placed completely separately. Thus there were in effect two completely separate competitions run concurrently.

Australia had been badly outclassed at all world comps to this time - and in fact, beyond. We did come to the fore in the seventies when we were represented by a German trained naturalised pilot - Ingo Renner. But my competition was in 1970 - at Marfa, Texas. USA. Basically Australians had been flat country thermal trained pilots and lacked the terrain and weather gliding experience of many overseas pilots. For example, gliding conditions at Marfa were a shock to some and quite different from Australia. It involved flying to limits we did not fly to in Australia. But flying in such conditions was still safely possible - it was just that we were not used to it.

To make an assessment is not to make excuses. I found I needed more mountain country experience - not to fly over such countryside, but to fly fast over it. The same could be said about the different background weather conditions in which we flew. I could perhaps sum it up this way - I, we, could stay up with the best of them but we could not cross country as fast. Also, as with all glider contest flying, to have a bad day almost certainly means a high position would be impossible. I had avoided bad days fairly well back home but I had two bad days at Marfa. Points are awarded each day. Best, 1000 points, and then other points to the remainder of the field scaled to performance - to speed, and sometimes to distance flown. In Australia, we seldom flew over country where there was nowhere to land. In USA glider pilots often fly over unlandable countryside - and a good pilot can do that safely. But, as I say, we had it too good in Australia. So to the report  written all those years ago.

This is a report on the Twelfth World Soaring Championship held at Marfa Texas from June 22nd to July 3rs 1970. Though the story contains a number of anecdotes it is the story of my flying, and any comments are my comments - not official comments.

Before I begin I would like to touch on two aspects - firstly - I would like to thank all those who assisted;  and in particular President Bill Iggulden for his push over the shipment of the Libelle and for his belief that the team would eventually make it; Don Stewart whose Libelle I flew; and the members of the Kingaroy Soaring Club for the sacrifices they made to assist me personally. Secondly I would like to mention my disappointment with my performance - two ‘muffed’ days that put me so near the bottom that it didn’t matter, but more of that later. Neglecting those two days, and assessing performance objectively I feel we Australians as a group are a little below world average, and far below world best. We should try to remedy this, but it would be foolish to kid ourselves that this will be easy.

Well - my story of the Marfa contest. The contest really began long before we left Australia. I first had to come to terms with the uncertainties and the continual changes brought about by finance - or the lack of it. Let me tell of just a few days. It was well after the 1969-70 Nationals before I knew definitely that I would be flying. (Bob Martin did not know until after he arrived in America).  At one stage the Libelle shipment was cancelled, but then Bill Iggulden arranged a ship ex Brisbane that should make it with a few days  to spare. We had to change trailers as Don’s was 18 metres. Kingaroy loaned theirs and it took about a week to make things ready.  Finally my wife Daphne and I  drove the trailer to Brisbane for shipment only to find when we got there that the ship had been delayed beyond the deadline.  After all the work we had done that was a bitter blow. As Don Stewart had loaned me the Libelle since January I thought it only fair to get it back to Mt Isa to him immediately. This I arranged the same day planning to begin the 1000 mile drive the day after. That night at 11 pm Jim Moore QSA President  got me out of  bed at the clubroom with the news that Bill Iggulden had now arranged shipment on a passenger liner (The Mariposa) as deck cargo ex Sydney  if I could get it there in the next few days. So instead of leaving for Mt Isa the next day I was on my way to Sydney with my wife and Marl Pegler as relief drivers, to deliver the trailer into the care of Jan Coolhaas, my crew chief.  We had made it.

On June 4 most of the team left Sydney for San Francisco on a QANTAS 707. Malcolm Jinks, John Rowe, Bob Martin, Trevor Kyle and Tony Tabart went on next day to El Mirage outside Los Angeles to collect and prepare the loaned U.S. gliders while Jan and I waited the few days in San Francisco for the ship to arrive. Our big worry of course was that the glider would be damaged, but it came through without a scratch; and after a few worrying moments with U.S. Customs who found it didn’t quite fit their normal procedures we cleared that too. Tony and an American girl drove all night the 400 odd miles from El Mirage and almost immediately  started on the trip back with the trailer.

Extra now added in italics - Jan and I gave the wharfie chief a bottle of rum to ensure he looked after the trailer unloading. When we arrived to collect the trailer was in a corner well protected by a system of barriers. The girl driver (who owner the car) could not manage the trailer - 25 feet long - and in the middle of San Francisco traffic got into trouble with an on coming truck. A quick change to an Australian driver and we were on our way. We arrived without further trouble.

At El Mirage Gus Briegleb of the BG12 fame put his workshop at our disposal - Fred Jiran, formerly of Australia via Austria, put his house at our disposal and helped in countless other ways. We would have been hard put without the help of those two. The week at El Mirage was busy. We had radio trouble, instrument trouble, work to do on the trailers, our car plans were uncertain, and we needed the full week. A constant trouble was that trailer light wiring in USA differs from Australia and this was a problem until we rewired our Australian trailer.

I was lucky in a way that the weather was bad - it blew a gale most of the time.  I had one flight of three and a half hours over the desert and up to the rugged ranges. One thing about the flight was most unusual compared with Australia. During the three hours or so at height, at times close enough to be heard were 20 jets; and a 727 circled the aerodrome at about 1500 feet. Certainly a new experience for an Australian glider pilot - almost memories of earlier wartime days.

Finally, with most of the preparations done, it was on to Marfa. I still had no base radio, and had yet to fit a vario I couldn’t get before I arrived at Marfa, and we were so short of crew I only knew for certain Jan would remain my crew chief. Just south of El Mirage we passed the Saltern Sea area - well below sea level like Lake Eyre. The pass leading to it is notorious for high winds and this day was blowing at over 70 mph. We avoided the worst of it by taking another route through the mountains, but we had an unpleasant hour not in the least improved by radio stories of trailers (not glider trailers) being blow over further down the road. So it was on, out of California, through Arizona, New Mexico and into Texas, over 1000 miles to Marfa. We could sit on 60 hour after hour on the magnificent American freeways, even through the centre of many large towns, and the disciplined and courteous American driving made travelling on the wrong side of the road a lot easier.

My ground view of  the Marfa area confirmed what I had read - rugged mountains, few paddocks, a tough gliding area.  We had a good look at the 70 mile run from Van Horn to Marfa, the best leg in the area (from a gliding point of view ) and one we were to fly over frequently. And so it was into practice week.

The Americans too used the week to practice their competition organisation. They set tasks and scored them, but most pilots flew more than the task, exploring the countryside. A. J. Smith of USA, World Champion from Poland set a sizzling pace during the week and left us amazed. We completed the aircraft preparations, my crew was arranged - Jan of course and on most days two Americans. As happens at all world contests many glider people of the host country attend and help out with cars etc. and have the experience of being part of an international ground crew. Alan Patching was stationed in USA as part of the team working with our F111s - he was a civilian, not RAAF. He had his family with him. He loaned my crew his car and he and his wife joined the crew of one of the other Australian pilots. Tommy Thompson (with whom I was to become quite friendly to this day 2001 was team manager. As he was Chief Medical Officer QANTAS he could have been quite handy should medical problems have arise - which fortunately they did not).

Marfa is an old WWII bomber training base and has a maze of double runways not all of which are now cleared.  From the air the others have what looks like short grass growing through cracks, but a ground inspection shows 10 foot high cactus. the cactus of the area and the tough shrubs that cover the flat ground make out landings a problem. At Marfa one hangar remains but fronting where the other hangers were is a wide concrete apron 3000 feet long.  It was from here we always took off, gliders lines up four abreast, in twenty rows with a tow rope for each neatly on the ground in position before any launching began. the launch rate throughout the contest was one every 30 seconds and there was never a hold-up.

Turning point photography was new to many and this was practised during the week. After my wartime photographic reconnaissance experience I did not expect nor did I have a problem here. The Americans had taken extreme measures to prevent cheating (because, I believe, some pilots from Europe somewhere, maintained they could cheat). Before launch a pencil mark was put on the canopy in front of the lens and a special board had to be photographed. Cameras (two) must be fixed and there were limitations on models and apertures. Each pilot was supplied with a booklet containing a photo of each turning point and a diagram indicating exactly where the photos had to be taken from. Acceptable tolerances were half a kilometre of distance and 20 degrees of heading.  the camera was so fixed that the wingtip appeared in each photo.  The system proved trouble free operationally but I feel it was unnecessarily complicated. The instamatic cameras in my case proved cheap and nasty.  One new camera I bought in USA failed two days running before take-off and I flew most of the contest with a borrowed camera fixed into position with masking tape.

The starting gate gave trouble. The Americans used a system that seemed foolproof in theory. The pilot must pass through an area above the starting line one kilometre wide and one kilometre high. The start is determined by an observer looking through a metal arrangement one kilometre from the starting line and set at an angle of 45 degrees. Another observer indicated to him when the glider was exactly overhead. Starting was by radio and a frequency was reserved for start and finish. This aspect was excellent but pilots mistrusted the gate. In the practice week most of us found we could not get a good start at 3280 feet (one kilometre) . I had to go down to 3050. Then in the contest there were days when I had to be below 3000. Many pilots were irate and were not prepared to accept that suddenly their altimeters had a 10 percent error. The point was raised at briefings and checks were made. The organisers blamed the pilots and later when bad starts decreased the organisers inferred the pilots were learning. Actually, many of us often felt we could not risk a bad start and it was safer to cross at 3000 feet to be sure. I did this and kept my reservations about the human side of the American system to the end.

During practice week, the weather, while not up to usual Marfa standards did give heights up to 10,000 above ground (already at about 5000 above sea level). Most of us had had some uncomfortable moments during the week with mountains and unlandable country but the locals said the weather was sure to improve - practice week had not been typical Marfa.

June 3, and the Twelfth World Soaring Championship began. Thirty-nine aircraft in the Open Class and 40 in the Standard. Of special interest was Moffat in the 22 metre Nimbus and Walter Neubert of Germany in a 22 metre Kestrel.  Standard aircraft were mainly Libelles, Cirruses,  ASW15s, Phoebuses, and LS1s, and the Poles had rather old fashioned wooden aircraft.

In the very early days just making distance was an accomplishment. As standards of aircraft improved speed tasks round set courses became popular. However, free distance days were retained. By 1970 distances could be so great, distance tasks had to be flown using a series of nominated, them pilot selected turning points. This was called a distance within a prescribed area. By the rules at Marfa the task setters were required to set two distance days. A few years later this restriction was removed.


Day 1:

Met Conditions weak. Cloudbase 3000 feet. Task - Distance within a prescribed area.  

Hell. But with the met conditions that task was not a surprise. Looked like an interesting day ahead. Allowed turning points were Sierra Blanca, Ardoin, Carlsbad, Wick, Odessa, Big Lake and of course, Marfa. Area roughly equivalent to (with Amberley as centre) Tenterfield, Chinchilla, Proston, Tiaro.

Of course there was no gate on this day. We all headed off from our first thermal. The Open were launched first and we followed on their tails.  Most pilots headed west towards Van Horn intending to decide when they got near whether to go to Sierra Blanco or Ardoin. The run to Van Horn was reasonable and at least this stretch was landable. Many of us went on to Ardoin in preference to the low run over the rugged range to Sierra Blanca.

The road from Van Horn to Ardoin skirts the rugged plateau of the Sierra Diablo Mountains to the west, then winds through a valley before finally entering the last open stretch to Ardoin. To the east the country is flat and very isolated. I had intended bearing east but was attracted by a number of gliders marking thermals on track. I found they were circling in no sink; and I was then too low to break east.

Large stretches of the Marfa district are unlandable by any standard. During the contest we were to cross these under conditions where we simply had to get another thermal. Other stretches were unlandable by Australian standards, but with the retrieve crew following and in touch by radio, often the crew could find a stretch of road clear of guideposts or a piece of paddock where the vegetation was low enough to pass under the wing.

Well, back to my valley. I got lower, and I called up Jan whom I could see below, to have a place ready. He replied, ‘You might be able to land towards the trailer’ in a tone that told me it would be better if I did not.

I scratched away from three low points and finally cleared the valley, when conditions improved. I then called ‘One Four to Kangaroo 3 roll Ardoin’. With my crew just behind me I had no problems over the flat country.

When near Ardoin I could hardly believe my ears. Number 1 A. J. Smith was frantically calling his crew for he had landed. He rushed the 120 mile back to Marfa and made a hopeless second attempt. He had lost the Championship on that first day.

At Ardoin I decided not to push on over the pass to Carlsbad but to fly back in the direction of base. This time I eased over the desolate country to the east and found the going better. But 3000 feet was far from comfortable, and I could not afford to miss a thermal. (A point I have not mentioned previously. Sometimes in World Contests cloud flying was allowed. It depended on the rules of the particular country. It was not permitted in USA and gliders were inspected to ensure no blind  flying instruments were carried. )  One pilot headed further east over the rugged country. I heard him on the radio, ‘I am down to 500 greet in no sink and there is just nowhere to land’. Then there was silence. Half an hour later I heard the same pilot, ‘I am now back near the saltpan. I have just had the fright of my life’.

At Van Horn conditions weakened as the day wore on.  Lift was barely 20 feet per minute and finally I landed on the road just ahead of my crew, at Lobo. I had covered 189 miles and felt I had flown a good flight.

That night at base the best return up before we left was 261 miles - a fantastic distance Bob and I thought. Next day we found the Standard Class Poles in their wooden Kobras had pair flown 305 miles and an Open Class Pole had flown 315. To borrow from Kipling - ‘We learned about gliding from that’.

I managed 13th place. One pilot had to walk 28 miles after landing. Unlike Australia  where the crew remained at base unless they had to retrieve their pilot in Texas the Americans took their crew round with them by radio. Some used racing drivers for the retrieve crew and speeds of 120 mph were reported. We Australians reckoned they should know what was best in their own country so we followed suit - as most overseas crews did. We kept our speed to 70 mph though. The Germans went their own ways and did not use following cars. The result was two were not retrieved until after an air search the next day. That of course cost them the open championship - or any chance of winning it. 

Nor was that the end of the first day’s tales of woe. Several gliders suffered minor damage but fibreglass being what it is they were flying the next day.  John Rowe of Waikerie landed on the road. So did a South African. In de-rigging, the South African was hit by a car - very minor damage. John’s team stopped to help and both pilots were arrested, taken immediately to court, and fined - $150 for the South African and $100 for John. That left a bad taste in our mouths. Later a collection among the teams at Marfa raised the $250 in a few minutes.

Day 2:

Better weather was forecast, but storms too. A speed task - Out and return to Van Horn - 163 miles.

Just after making  a start I got involved in a monstrous gaggle so I made another start. The track to Van Horn lies over the Davis Mountains. Some pilots fly direct.  Others fly over the foothills either because height is difficult to come by or because they think lift is stronger there. Others again follow the curve near the road either out of caution or because they feel lift will be better there. Often it is.

I kept on track and started well. I got higher than the planes with me and watched them eventually turn left to the flatter country as they got lower over the mountains. I think it was A. J. Smith who once remarked, ‘ I have heard only goats live there. I don’t believe it. No self respecting goat would live there’.

Past the main range mass and on over the desolate country towards van Horn. Here I slowed down and although I did not know it at the time I was passed by the planes that had diverted to the valley. With my second start I was now a tail ender.

In hindsight the second start was a mistake of course but I had no reason to think that way at the time. I made extremely good speed and was high to begin with. Whether those who had to divert were simply lucky or whether they were judging on something I missed I do not know. I did not know at the time and still do not know.

Van Horn was in deep shadow. Off track to the west was a small cloud I couldn’t reach under which three gliders were circling. Short of Van Horn was one small patch of sunlight. From 2000 feet I circled in it gradually losing height in still air. At 1000 feet the thermal popped and I could climb away. But it cost me about 7 minutes - over 2 mph.  I crept round the turning point and started on my way back. Again it became a case of holding in places and losing time while storms built up ahead. The air over the cultivated areas at Lobo was dead so I headed off track to the foothills. At 1000 feet I encountered turbulence and about 5 minutes later I began to climb very slowly. Another 2-3 mph.

I watched the tantalising sight of a cloud develop into a storm-line just ahead with dust being carried up in a line on track - just too far for me to reach. Slowly I climbed, and at last I could reach it. I went up to 6000 feet, flying straight, fast, along its edge.

The gap to the next cloud was wide and the air in between was dead. I reached its edge with the altimeter showing 450 feet, and entered gentle turbulence. Five minutes later, with a marginal landing area below me I was still at 450 feet. As the cloud above me developed into a storm the turbulence increased and I climbed to 1200 feet. Then I lost the lift and I was back to 600. It became more turbulent now but again it was lift. Obviously it was a narrow band but I dare not fly straight for if I lost it I might not find it again.  Then came rain and my dry landing area below became a sea of water. Turbulence grew. I had 80 on the clock on one side of the turn and stalled violently three times on the opposite side. But I was climbing. At 2000 it eased and up I went to base at 6000. I had to fly through the storm through a lighter gap in the rain and at a place where the cloud base was a little higher. I had the merest glimpse of a horizon and there was lightning on each side. The crew on the road got shocks off the car radio. When I broke clear I had enough for final glide and could call, ‘Kangaroo 3 go home’.

I think I was the last to get home and of course my time had been ruined. Late second start and being sucked in by the good climb over the mountains at the beginning.

The Standard Class winner was a German Helmut Reichmann - an outstanding pilot during the contest and the eventual winner. In contrast with my 1400 hours of gliding he had an unbelievable 250 hours.

Day 3:

221mile triangle. Van Horn, Sierra Blanca, Base.  Forecast Frontal area just east of Marfa but bases to 5000 on track. A few storms.

I can now look at this day with hindsight at year 2001. Maybe the front warning should have told me something. It did not and even had I thought about I don’t think I would have changed my early wrong decision. This, even though I had made a deliberate bad late start the previous day. Late starts are very often the best decisions in competitions. Launching takes place quite early - and pilots wait until they decide it is time to go - maybe even two hours later in an extreme case. And I was not alone in making a wrong decision. The Wally Scott I mention later was a local pilot with a tremendous amount of flying in the area. The other two I mention were world standard pilots - while I was the ‘novice’. Anyway, assessments - not excuses. But on to the write up of the time.

Conditions were good after release and before starting I flew out ten miles to explore a large over-developed area near Marfa township. (Our aerodrome was about 10 miles from Marfa itself and there was another aerodrome on the northern side). The area was mainly dead with only occasional lift areas.

I made a start and flew to the north side of the over-development area. I should have gone south.  Soon I was in rain and weak lift just past Marfa town. A few miles further on the sky opened to excellent Cu. I had three choices. 1. Fly on to the Cu which I could probably reach and accept the waste of time in the poor area. 2. Delay in the rain where I was with the possibility of an out landing but plan to return and make a fresh start. 3. As My crew was close, land at Marfa drome and return then for another tow and start. As I had about 90 minutes up my sleeve I decided on choice three. As it turned out both 2 and 3 would have been equally disastrous.

Forty minutes after landing I was rigged again and on the start line for a second launch. With me were six other pilots including Dick Jorgensen of NZ, ‘Bomber ‘ Jackson of South Africa and Wally Scott, the local area American pilot.  We all remained trapped for the rest of the day.

I took the second of eleven launches. All day the over-development stayed, with the good Cu tantalisingly close just past Marfa. For the first couple of launches my crew had to chase up the American grid crew, but after that they automatically brought a tow rope over. I would land on a curved taxiway and coast up to the launch point and be off again without getting out of the cockpit.  Twice I was dropped in a position from which I could have reached  rising dust to the west but there was never the least sign of lift that would enable me to make an official start - and starting off launch was not permitted on a speed task day.  At four the others began to arrive back low and fast and I had to wait for breaks to enable me to launch.  Dick Jorgensen released near the gate, floated through for a start, and ended up at Marfa town aerodrome. On my last launch I flew away from the aerodrome towards some clouds but I also then landed at Marfa town aerodrome - for the second time.

They said next day in the competition bulletin that I wore out two tugs. My crew corrected it to. ‘Two tugs and one crew’.

Day 4:

Same task as for day 3. Thermals forecast to 6000 with some storms.

By 11.30 all gliders were on the launching grid and photograph officials had gone round from aircraft to aircraft so that the board could be photographed. Also, all aircraft were inspected to see they were not carrying gyro instruments. All unauthorised persons were also cleared from the grid. Launching began at 11.35 and 20 minutes later the last of the Standard Class moved off. After the usual five minute pause the launching of the other class began.

Ten minutes after the last Standard Class had released, a green smoke bomb was ignited near the starting line and a voice over the starting line radio announced, ‘The starting gate is now open for Standard Class aircraft’.  As was frequently the case, few were anxious to start so soon.

Imagine 80 gliders in the few miles round the aerodrome. Yet this was without doubt the most relaxing time of the flight. A pilot  could never, however,  have a thermal to himself. Two, three, ten, often twenty gliders would circle left, but it was still fairly relaxed. There would be the droopy nose Phoebuses and LS1s, the shark like Kobras, the overgrown Nimbus, and the beautiful Libelles. At times a glider would stay transfixed hard over the left shoulder - at other times they would move fast across space on the opposite side of the thermal.

This day presented no problems. There were heavy patches of sink on leg 1 and I got fairly low at Van Horn, but a good thermal took me up again. The run over the rugged country to Sierra Blanca was reasonable and I had a fast run home on the long final leg. At times I had climbs of 1000 feet per minute but mostly it was rough and broken lift of about 600 feet. I made no recognisable mistakes but in comparison my time was slow. I made 58.3 mph. Reichmann turned in 74 and Moffat (Open Class) almost 80.

As I assessed earlier. I could manage to stay up in very poor conditions but I certainly lacked the ability to use conditions to fly at a fast average speed.


Day 5:

Out and return to Ardoin. Lift to 4000 feet and up to 500 fpm  in the best part of the day. Some storm development.

I had a disappointing run in which I seemed to be out of phase with development. Just short of Pecos, as I was a little low, I spent about 10 minutes working scratchy lift and when finally I did push on I immediately ran into miles of good stuff.

(The run to Pecos first crosses the ranges, then passes Fort Davis, then over the gorge country to Balmorhea. From here on the country is flat, farmed, and about 2000 feet lower than Marfa. Pecos has a reputation for weak lift and needs to be watched.)

Back over the ranges the clouds were dropping rain. But on the last ten miles conditions boomed. I advised my crew ‘Kangaroo 3 go home’ and then changed to the finish gate frequency.

Some were having second tries, making 326 miles if completed and a landing and a new start were compulsory.  At exactly 5, I went through the gate and ran almost immediately into 500 feet per minute lift.  The cloud edge was a few miles further north and when I moved under it lift rose to 1000 feet per minute. A cloud street ran right on track right across the ranges and here I cruised at 90  stopping only to take lift that put the variometer hard over and was probably 1500 feet per minute.

It was here a puzzled crew eventually worked out what was happening. They had received, ‘Roll Fort Davis’ then rather quickly, ‘Roll Balmorhea.’ When I had come back on to the cruise frequency I had forgotten to tell them it was a second try. While they were driving towards Marfa I had landed, and then taken off again, and made the second start. At first that thought I had got caught in rain and was having to back track. There was relief in the voices when they realised it was a second try.

Past Balmorhea, for a time, the party was over. Over the flat country the clouds ended, but having completed the task once I had nothing to lose so I could push. I did a fast straight glide to Pecos which I reached averaging 70 mph for the out and into wind leg. I was low at Pecos. It was a scratch back to the range in 200 feet per minute rubbish, where once again the lift improved. Flying on without turning I was able to gain the 7000 feet needed for the final glide from near Fort Davis.

I averaged 63.4 mph. Reichmann, the winner, averaged 70.8. I was placed about mid field.


Day 6:

Distance within a prescribed area - same turning points as day 1. Met forecast gave bases to 7000 with possible storms south of Davis Mountains. The Wind from the east.

Once again the Open was launched before the Standard. I released at 1500 without going to the standard 2000 in a good thermal which took me to 3000 feet before it weakened.  I had a struggle getting up under the next cloud area but the run past Lobo was mainly using 500 feet per minute. Here I explored a developing storm mass just south of track but could only fly straight in weak lift.

We had discussed tactics as a team before launching. Sierra Blanca seemed the best first turning point. Here we could decide with in-flight radio discussion (quite allowable) whether to go east to Wick or Odessa or north to Ardoin or Carlsbad. Malcolm and John reached Sierra Blanca ahead of Bob and I of course, and both decided to head east.

After the storm area the sky looked good but the clouds were hard to work as the lift was so turbulent and broken. But it was no trouble making good time over the rough ridges to Sierra Blanca. I could tell by this time from radio chatter that the Open were finding it a little weak near Van Horn. Towards Ardoin looked good. The track was across the rugged unlandable Sierra Dablo mountain mass. Bob and I decided on Ardoin.

Lift continued at 500 feet per minute under a streeting sky but the lift was so broken centering was impossible. It proved best to bring back the speed-to-fly ring and simply fly straight. I stopped to circle only once in the 35 mile into-wind mountain crossing. Then the run across the saltpan country to Ardoin was a little weaker but no problem.

I now had a decision. The country between Ardoin and Carlsbad is horrible,  and I had previously planned to avoid it. Now it seemed best not to photograph Ardoin but to fly on towards Carlsbad which was almost in the same straight line, take in Ardoin on the return and then head for Marfa. By the rules we could not photograph one place, fly to another and then return to the first place. Hard up against Ardoin is the highest mountain in Texas Guadalupe, at the end of the Brakeoff Mountains. The ravines in this massif stand out line exaggerated three dimension photos, while to the east runs a lower spur which looks as if it had been boiling, and then suddenly solidified.

I had no sooner entered the pass when things turned sour and I was scratching along with nowhere to land. Things became even weaker over the better country near Carlsbad and ever in my mind was the knowledge I had to go back again over the country I had crossed. The American in the car with my crew advised only 40 miles of rough country to the east and then a safe run to Wick, but Bob and I in radio conversation decided it seemed weaker still that way, and we both elected to return to Ardoin. I took the route over the range edge and had a more comfortable run back.

Time was getting on, and Bob and I, who had come together flew in company through the deep shadow areas over the edge of the Sierra Dablos and on past Van Horn. here we again separated. Just past Lobo I saw dust rising to a large cloud near Valentine, about 10 miles away. I changed from almost the slow best L/D to 90 mph and washing off height, headed for the dust before it died. It gave of course a good climb - to about 6000 feet. I was now heading into a stiff evening wind. Hindsight again - We seldom flew this type of task at home and here was a lesson. I should plan the end of the day to be down wind - not into wind as here. I would stop my crew at a spot on the road I could make- catch another thermal and work it until it weakened or drift was winning - move my crew on, then fly through the smooth air hoping for another evening thermal. Marfa was now visible but landing areas were absent on this approach should I end up a little short.

I eventually sacrificed 5 miles and 25 points to ensure a safe landing. The trailer was parked at my touchdown spot with Jan on the radio. One of the Americans crewing with us would be further up the road to stop cars from behind. Traffic was almost non existent in this out-of-the-way area. The other American would be further up the road. I coasted up to him. He caught my wing, then went to the tail, and with me using the brake we rolled down the incline at the side and were clear in a few seconds.

Again I considered I had flown a good flight and had used the whole day - the eight hours of it. Reichmann won again with 462 miles. I was again mid field with 375.


Day 7:

Out and return to Pecos. 163 miles. Base to 4000 feet with some overdevelopment. Lift to 300 feet per minute in the best part of the day.

This was a day on which I decided to push and on which I did very well - until I outlanded.

The run across the range was low and the track I followed was irregular, but clouds indicated lift and although I was at times only 1000 feet above the very rugged range tops, it went well.  My aircraft recognition is notoriously bad. Just before I left the mountains I met up with a Standard Class LS1. We fought a battle all the way to Pecos and back to the first ridge past Balmorhea. I would out-climb him and he would out-glide me.  We would separate, and later come together again at the same height. I recognised him by the LV on his tail.

At Balmorhea a ridge lies at right angles to the track. Beyond it is the gorge area leading to Fort Davis. Just short of the ridge I came in under Moffat - Open Class World Championship standard - just 7 minutes behind him. I was feeling quite pleased with myself. There were clouds to the left over the ridge and clouds to the right over their ridge. On track there was a good street ahead but I needed more height to reach it for a fast glide home. There were cloud wisps ahead over the valley leading to the street, and these had been working over the plains. So while others branched right or left I flew straight ahead, clearing the ridge by about 500 feet and went in under the wisps.

No go. They were not working. Fifteen minutes later  in the middle of a very good day I was on the road at one of the two landable spots in the valley. I could perhaps claim, for what use it would be, that lack of Australian flying among mountains led me into the mistake. But a mistake it was whatever the reason and I paid the penalty.

One small consolation. My earlier opponent wasn’t a Standard Class aircraft of my performance. The Italian pilot came up to me later. It was an Open Class Kestrel. He congratulated me on my performance. Nice, but little use after an out landing.


Day 8:

Out and return to Odessa. 290 miles.

I will not recount the whole flight. One hour of the day was excellent with 800 ft/min cores in turbulent lift areas - over miles of unlandable oilfield country.

A strip of country between Peeks and Fort Davis is notorious for weak lift. An early group crossed it OK on the return but then it died from the east and many of us found ourselves pushing further and further west into the mountains, even as far as Balmorhea. It became a case of simply getting home, with speed forgotten.  Many pilots got into real difficulty in the ranges.

Lorna Patching (wife of Alan Patching - in USA in connection with our F111 purchase, and whose car had been loaned to me and my team) remarked to me next day she was glad she was not out with the crews. A New Zealand wife complained to her of the worry of it all. Frantic radio calls had crews already heading for Mara backtracking to Fort Stockton and then taking the Balmorhea road, there being no cross roads. This particular wife said her husband called ‘I’m at 1000 feet and in trouble. Find me a landing spot quick’. “But there was simply nowhere to land’, she said.

I got back but my speed was slow.


Day 9:

Final day. A triangle of 327 miles for the Open. We had an Out and Return to Odessa - 290 miles.

Again a case of the usual 10 mph slower than the best and still slower than most.

My outlandings had put me so close to the bottom it did not matter - but World comps was an experience of a lifetime. In 1970 I was probably at the peak of my performance - OK perhaps for Australian contests but not World standard. I did not make the team for the next contest in Yugo Slavia nor the next contest at Waikerie in Australia. But there I had a very interesting time. I was Chairman of the Task Setting Committee. But that is another story. Back to Marfa. I landed late afternoon. We had the closing ceremony and then at dusk I began the fifteen hundred mile drive to San Francisco.


 Going Home: 

Our four teams had travelled separately from California to Marfa. Now it would be the same procedure for the return. On the arrival trip an American had towed my glider (Don Stewart’s of Mt Isa actually) accompanied by Jan and myself. For the return Jan would drive with another American and the glider to El Mirage inland from Los Angeles and leave it there. Transport to Los Angeles for shipping back to Australia had been arranged for after we left for home. I had nothing to do with that aspect of the planning - that was arranged by the team manager. The American who had supplied the car for Malcolm Jinks came from San Francisco. I was to drive with him to El Mirage. There Jan would join us after dropping off the glider and then come on to San Francisco with us. We, my car owner and myself, were not towing a glider. My driver owned a sort of off road vehicle but not a four wheel drive. Metal body with no lining, and the engine was between us covered of course with a metal shield.

This car owner was very touchy when others drove his car. In fact the team he operated with during the comps found him annoying. Anyway, about dark we left. Yes, he was picky while I was driving but after an hour or so apparently my driving satisfied him. He said nothing to me about (my) driving for the rest of the trip. We regularly changed about. All night. All the next day - with the temperature over 100 degrees or over 40 depending on taste in temperature measurement. Hell it was a hot trip. Just before dark we arrived at El Mirage and  met up with Jan and the glider. It was parked as arranged and then Jan joined us for the trip north to San Francisco. About nine we pulled into a motel for the night. On again next morning to arrive as San Francisco after lunch.

Jan and I booked into a hotel (Daphne and I were to visit it a number of times on later trips - it had a very nice restaurant.) Our plane did not leave for a few days so time for sight seeing. And finally home, after a wonderful experience. Yes, I decided Daphne and I must go to America and we did.  In 1974 - and it started quite a number of such tours.

Quite some time later the glider arrived, as arranged, back in Brisbane. Dave Sharpells attended to the collection from the wharf and towed it to Kingaroy. Next Dave - his car - and Daphne and I towed it to Longreach where we handed it over to Don Stewart from Mt Isa. World Comp experience now finally completed.

I probably should add one more item. During the contest we had a very unusual and special visitor.  He gave us a very interesting talk. On a couple of days, once the competitors had left, he did a couple of solo ‘leisure ‘ glider flights. Yes he was allowed - encouraged - to do this in the middle of a world contest. His name? Armstrong. Yes, Neil Armstrong of the then recent moon flight. I got his autograph for daughter Cherie.


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